Sunday, September 14, 2014

Put it where the sun don’t shine

The title page shown above is a somewhat crude phrase that can describe where you’d put ideas or concepts that you don’t agree with. However, there is also a gentler meaning for the phrase, and it was alluded to in a story in the New York Times on the morning of September 14.

In the near future, Germany will be getting 30% of its electrical power from renewable energy sources, which is twice the amount that the United States currently achieves. Some of that electric power comes from huge windmills in the North Sea, but a sizable amount also comes from solar panels. Today, Germany gets 7% of its power from solar panels, and 10% of its power from wind turbines.

Germany currently gets roughly 20% of its electrical power from nuclear sources, but after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, the country has made a determined effort to rid itself of nuclear power within the next decade. Although America gets 19% of its electrical power from nuclear (far less than France’s 75%) the fact that we consume much more electricity means that America is by far the largest nuclear producer in the world, with a total capacity of 102 gigawatts.

Both Germany and the United States currently get about 40% of their power from coal, but that percentage will decrease as renewable source energy production increases. In some circles, that would be considered a “war on coal”, but it’s also a big step towards improving the air that we breath. China currently receives 69% of its electricity from coal, and the results aren’t pretty.

The surprising part about Germany’s solar industry is that the country as a whole gets significantly less sunshine than the United States. The only places in the United States that get less sunshine than Germany are Seattle and Alaska. Naturally, you’re not going to hear that fact on FOX “news”, which has stated on air that Germany gets a lot more sunshine than the United States. The short FOX video in the link below is worth watching.

your brain is about to turn into mush

The sunniest spot in America is Yuma, Arizona, which receives 90% of available sunlight. Phoenix and Tucson are close behind, at 85%, and my home town of Flagstaff receives 78% of available sunlight. Yuma also leads the nation in the number of clear days a year, with 242 days.

In contrast, my home state of Minnesota receives only slightly more than 50% of available sunlight (Duluth receives 52%, and Minneapolis/St. Paul receives 58%). That fact, however, hasn’t prevented a large solar installation that will soon start on the Fond du Lac reservation. When completed, it will generate 1.0 megawatts of power, enough to generate 10% of the power for the Black Bear casino Resort. Somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota Power (which makes money be selling electricity), will contribute $2,000,000 towards the project.

Since Arizona receives lots of sunshine, you would assume that the state would lead the nation in solar power. It actually takes a distant second to California, which produces 2745.9 megawatts of power, and 50% of that capacity was added in 2013. Arizona produces 700.7 megawatts, which puts it far ahead of 3rd place North Carolina.

Strangely enough, sunny Arizona is the site of the largest NUCLEAR power plant in the country. Located about 45 miles west of downtown Phoenix, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station produces 3.3 getaways of power, and serves about 4,000,000 people.

As the New York Times articles points out, expanding the use of renewable energy is a complicated process, since regulators are charged with protecting the interests of the general public, while simultaneously keeping the utility companies happy. In recent years, some of the regulators on the Arizona Corporation Commission (the regulating body in Arizona) have had close ties to power producing companies, who often work AGAINST the solar and wind industries.

Sadly, we have far too many politicians who don’t want stricter environmental regulations on coal plants, or who want to use fracking to produce natural gas, or who want to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon (uranium is used in nuclear power plants) or who want to allow mining in sensitive environmental areas. To those politicians, I have a few words of advice.

Please refer to my title.